« June 2018 | Main | August 2018 »


July 31, 2018

Libertarian Peter Thiel Predicts Communist China's Tech Success (What?)




(p. B1) The Trump administration gave ZTE, which employs 75,000 people and is the world's No. 4 maker of telecom gear, a stay of execution on Thursday. ZTE, which had violated American sanctions, agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and to allow monitors to set up shop in its headquarters. In return, the company -- once a symbol of China's progress and engineering know-how -- will be allowed to buy the American-made microchips, software and other tools it needs to survive.

China's technology boom, it turns out, has been largely built on top of Western technology.

The ZTE incident, as it is called in China, may be the country's Sputnik moment. Like the United States in 1957, watching helplessly as the Soviet Union launched the first human-made satellite, many people in China now see how far the country still has to go.

"We realized," said Dong Jielin, an adjunct professor at the Research Center for Technological Innovation at Tsinghua University in Beijing, "that China's prosperity was built on sand."


. . .


(p. B3) . . . many in China -- and many cheerleaders of the Chinese tech scene -- . . . found themselves in a feedback loop of their own making. The powerful propaganda machine flooded out rational voices, said Ms. Dong of Tsinghua University. The tech boom fits perfectly into Beijing's grand narrative of a national rejuvenation. Innovation and entrepreneurship are top national policies, with enormous financial backing from the government. Even now, some articles critical of China's lagging semiconductor industry have disappeared from the internet there.

And it wasn't just Chinese people. Michael Moritz, the American venture capital investor, warned that China "is leaving Donald Trump's America behind." Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder, wondered how long it would take for China to overtake the United States. Three to four years, he concluded.

The boom kept many from asking hard questions. They promoted China's surge in patent filings without looking at whether the patents were any good. They didn't ask why China still imports 90 percent of its semiconductor components even though the industry became a national priority in 2000.



For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. "China's Sputnik Moment." The New York Times (Monday, June 11, 2018): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2018, and has the title "THE NEW NEW WORLD; ZTE's Near-Collapse May Be China's Sputnik Moment.")






July 30, 2018

Public Housing Segregated Blacks and Created Disincentives for Marriage and Work




(p. 21) Public housing in America was a New Deal innovation, intended not for the poor, but rather for working-class families, those who could afford to pay modest rent if the government provided them with the homes that private builders didn't during the Depression. The Public Works Administration then built separate projects for white and black tenants.


. . .


With public housing racially isolated, other policies -- some misguided but well intentioned, others indefensible -- exacerbated the dysfunction. Austen notes that long waiting lists for relatively few units left poor applicants without other options for safe lodging. Compassionate officials addressed the predicament by lowering the income cutoff to qualify for public housing. The Chicago Housing Authority then made space for the poor by evicting working-class families for whom the projects were initially designed. The authority's executive director told them, "Be proud to move out, so that a lower-income family can have the advantage that you have had." Public housing's opponents also demanded the evictions, insisting that those able to afford private accommodations should be barred from public support.

As Austen observes, the policy created a disincentive to marry, because a husband's wages might render a family ineligible to remain in its home. The result was the segregation of projects by race and by income, concentrating fatherless young men who not only had little access to legitimate employment but lacked working-class role models who knew how to search for it. In the early 1950s, the median income of Chicago's public housing residents was nearly two-thirds of the citywide average. By 1970, it was barely one-third.

Initially, Cabrini-Green hired residents as maintenance workers. But perversely, when income cutoffs were lowered, holding such jobs made tenants ineligible to remain. With residents themselves no longer responsible for maintenance, projects deteriorated. And with projects now filled with the politically powerless, and with revenue from rent payments falling, government slashed maintenance budgets and turned high rises into slums. In 1977, Cabrini-Green had 19 maintenance workers; two years later, there were six. Nearly half its units were unoccupied because of insufficient staff. Yet for most who remained in the projects, conditions were still superior to those in the overcrowded dwellings from which they had come.


. . .


In an otherwise nuanced book, Austen labels the social workers and officials who vowed to clear slums and house the poor as "do-gooders." Implicit in his scorn is a hindsight appreciation that, for the poor to thrive, their communities must include working- and even middle-class families. The urbanist Jane Jacobs knew as much, but her "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" was published in 1961, after evictions of working-class public housing residents were already well underway. Until the sociologist William Julius Wilson published "The Truly Disadvantaged," in 1987, few comprehended the terrible consequences of cleansing urban neighborhoods of the stably employed. In 2018, Ben Austen has illustrated these repercussions; we can now better consider remedies by contemplating the lessons "High-Risers" offers.



For the full review, see:

Richard Rothstein. "Bleak Housing." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 15, 2018): 21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 13, 2018, and has the title "A New Look at the New Deal's Legacy of Public Housing.")


The book under review, is:

Austen, Ben. High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing. New York: Harper, 2018.






July 29, 2018

A.I. Assists, but Does Not Replace, Humans




(p. B4) Some Phoenix-area residents have been hailing rides in minivans with no drivers and no human safety operators inside. But that doesn't mean they're on their own if trouble arises.

From a command center, employees at Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo driverless-car unit monitor the test vehicles on computer screens, able to wirelessly peer in through the minivan's cameras. If the robot brain maneuvering the vehicle gets confused by a situation--say, a car unexpectedly stalled in front of it or closed lanes of traffic--it will stop the vehicle and ask the command center to verify what it is seeing. If the human confirms the situation, the robot will calculate how it should navigate around the hazard.



For the full story, see:

Tim Higgins. "Driverless Autos Get Help From Humans Watching Remotely." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 7, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 5, 2018, and has the title "Driverless Cars Still Handled by Humans--From Afar.")






July 28, 2018

Fewer Regulations Allow Faster Chinese Cancer Innovation




(p. A1) HANGZHOU, China--In a hospital west of Shanghai, Wu Shixiu since March has been trying to treat cancer patients using a promising new gene-editing tool.

U.S. scientists helped devise the tool, known as Crispr-Cas9, which has captured global attention since a 2012 report said it can be used to edit DNA. Doctors haven't been allowed to use it in human trials in America. That isn't the case for Dr. Wu and others in China.

In a quirk of the globalized technology arena, Dr. Wu can forge ahead with the tool because he faces few regulatory hurdles to testing it on humans. His hospital's review board took just an afternoon to sign off on his trial. He didn't need national regulators' approval and has few reporting requirements.

Dr. Wu's team at Hangzhou Cancer Hospital has been drawing blood from esophageal-cancer patients, shipping it by high-speed rail to a lab that modifies disease-fighting cells using Crispr-Cas9 by deleting a gene that interferes with the immune system's ability to fight cancer. His team then infuses the cells (p. A10) back into the patients, hoping the reprogrammed DNA will destroy the disease.

In contrast, what's expected to be the first human Crispr trial outside China has yet to begin. The University of Pennsylvania has spent nearly two years addressing federal and other requirements, including numerous safety checks designed to minimize risks to patients. While Penn hasn't received final federal clearance to proceed, "we hope to get clearance soon," a Penn spokeswoman said.

"China shouldn't have been the first one to do it," says Dr. Wu, 53, an oncologist and president of Hangzhou Cancer Hospital. "But there are fewer restrictions."



For the full story, see:

Rana, Preetika, Amy Dockser Marcus and Wenxin Fan. "China Races Ahead In Gene Editing." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, January 22, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 21, 2018, and has the title "China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials.")






July 27, 2018

Canada's Single-Payer System Causes "Suffering and Deaths of People on Wait Lists"




(p. A17) Canada's single-payer health-care system, known as Medicare, is notoriously sluggish. But private clinics like Cambie are prohibited from charging most patients for operations that public hospitals provide free. Dr. Day is challenging that prohibition before the provincial Supreme Court.


. . .


People stuck on Medicare waiting lists can only dream of timely care. Last year, the median wait between referral from a general practitioner and treatment from a specialist was 21.2 weeks, or about five months--more than double the wait a quarter-century ago. Worse, the provincial governments lie about the extent of the problem. The official clock starts only when a surgeon books the patient, not when a general practitioner makes the referral. That adds months and sometimes much longer. In November [2017] an Ontario woman learned she'd have to wait 4½ years to see a neurologist.


. . .


Dr. Day's lawsuit aims to overturn these provisions. It alleges that the government's legal restrictions on private care are to blame for the needless "suffering and deaths of people on wait lists." Dr. Day argues that the current system violates citizens' rights to "life, liberty, and security of the person," as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the equivalent of the U.S. Bill of Rights.



For the full commentary, see:

Sally C. Pipes. "Single-Payer Health Care Isn't Worth Waiting For; An orthopedic surgeon challenges Canada's ban on most privately funded procedures." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, January 22, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 21, 2018.)









July 26, 2018

"NASA as a Bloated and Unimaginative Bureaucracy"




(p. 10) "The Space Barons," by Christian Davenport, a Washington Post reporter, is an exciting narrative filled with colorful reporting and sharp insights. The book sparkles because of Davenport's access to the main players and his talent for crisp storytelling.


. . .


One of the first private pioneers was Burt Rutan, a mutton-chopped aircraft designer who regarded NASA as a bloated and unimaginative bureaucracy and in 1982 founded a company called Scaled Composites that designed aircraft so innovative that, as Davenport writes, "it was as if his inspiration came not just from the laws of aerodynamics but from Picasso." One of his ideas was for a manned aircraft that could reach the edge of space and then fold its wings upward to act as a feather allowing the craft to re-enter the earth's atmosphere, land on a runway, and be reused. It would become his entry in the Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million for the first private company that could launch a reusable vehicle to space twice within two weeks.

Rutan attracted two billionaire partners. The first was the Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who as a schoolboy in Seattle yearned to become an astronaut but, being nearsighted, realized that was impossible so spent his time coding in the school's computer room with his friend Bill Gates. Rutan's second partner was the toothy goldilocked Richard Branson, a thrill-addicted serial adventurer and entrepreneur who was as enthusiastic about publicity as Allen was averse to it. Branson's personal motto for his company, Virgin, was "Screw it, let's do it," which was no longer a guiding principle at NASA, and he created Virgin Galactic with the goal of taking tourists into space. "Paul, isn't this better than the best sex you ever had?" Branson asked Allen during one test flight as the spaceship climbed higher.

In 2004, Rutan's craft (with a Virgin logo on its tail) flew twice to space and back to win the X Prize. At the celebration, Rutan took a shot at NASA. "I was thinking a little bit about that other space agency, the big guys," he said. "I think they're looking at each other now and saying, 'We're screwed.'"


. . .


At the end of 2015, within a month of each other, Musk and Bezos both launched rockets that returned safely to earth and were reusable. For the moment, Musk the hare had darted ahead: His powerful Falcon 9 rocket had lifted a payload into orbit, whereas Bezos' smaller New Shepard craft had merely gone up into the edge of space and returned. But as happens with scrappy entrepreneurial business competitors, in contrast to government bureaucracies, Bezos and Musk were goading each other on. And unlike the race between the tortoise and the hare, they can both triumph -- as can, one hopes, Richard Branson and others.



For the full review, see:

Walter Isaacson. "The Right Stuff." The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 29, 2018): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 24, 2018, and has the title "In This Space Race, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk Are Competing to Take You There.")


The book under review, is:

Davenport, Christian. The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos. New York: PublicAffairs, 2018.






July 25, 2018

No Known Maximum Life Span




(p. D3) Since 1900, average life expectancy around the globe has more than doubled, thanks to better public health, sanitation and food supplies. But a new study of long-lived Italians indicates that we have yet to reach the upper bound of human longevity.

"If there's a fixed biological limit, we are not close to it," said Elisabetta Barbi, a demographer at the University of Rome. Dr. Barbi and her colleagues published their research Thursday [sic] in the journal Science.


. . .


Dr. Barbi and her colleagues combed through Italy's records to find every citizen who had reached the age of 105 between 2009 and 2015. To validate their ages, the researchers tracked down their birth certificates.

The team ended up with a database of 3,836 elderly Italians. The researchers tracked down death certificates for those who died in the study period and determined the rate at which various age groups were dying.

It's long been known that the death rate starts out somewhat high in infancy and falls during the early years of life. It climbs again among people in their thirties, finally skyrocketing among those in their seventies and eighties.


. . .


Among extremely old Italians, they discovered, the death rate stops rising -- the curve abruptly flattens into a plateau.

The researchers also found that people who were born in later years have a slightly lower mortality rate when they reach 105.

"The plateau is sinking over time," said Kenneth W. Wachter, a demographer at the University of California, Berkeley, who co-authored the new study. "Improvements in mortality extend even to these extreme ages."

"We're not approaching any maximum life span for humans yet," he added.



For the full story, see:

Zimmer, Carl. "What Is the Limit of Our Life Span?" The New York Times (Tuesday, July 3, 2018): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 28, 2018, and has the title "How Long Can We Live? The Limit Hasn't Been Reached, Study Finds." The NYT article says the Science article was published on "Thursday," but the citation for it that I found says it was published on Fri., June 29, 2018.)


The Science article mentioned above, is:

Barbi, Elisabetta, Francesco Lagona, Marco Marsili, James W. Vaupel, and Kenneth W. Wachter. "The Plateau of Human Mortality: Demography of Longevity Pioneers." Science 360, no. 6396 (June 29, 2018): 1459-61.






July 24, 2018

Rats, Mice, and Humans Fail to Ignore Sunk Costs




(p. D6) Suppose that, seeking a fun evening out, you pay $175 for a ticket to a new Broadway musical. Seated in the balcony, you quickly realize that the acting is bad, the sets are ugly and no one, you suspect, will go home humming the melodies.

Do you head out the door at the intermission, or stick it out for the duration?

Studies of human decision-making suggest that most people will stay put, even though money spent in the past logically should have no bearing on the choice.

This "sunk cost fallacy," as economists call it, is one of many ways that humans allow emotions to affect their choices, sometimes to their own detriment. But the tendency to factor past investments into decision-making is apparently not limited to Homo sapiens.

In a study published on Thursday [July 12, 2018] in the journal Science, investigators at the University of Minnesota reported that mice and rats were just as likely as humans to be influenced by sunk costs.

The more time they invested in waiting for a reward -- in the case of the rodents, flavored pellets; in the case of the humans, entertaining videos -- the less likely they were to quit the pursuit before the delay ended.

"Whatever is going on in the humans is also going on in the nonhuman animals," said A. David Redish, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota and an author of the study.

This cross-species consistency, he and others said, suggested that in some decision-making situations, taking account of how much has already been invested might pay off.



For the full story, see:

Erica Goode. "'Sunk Cost Fallacy' Claims More Victims." The New York Times (Tuesday, July 17, 2018): D6

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 12, 2018, and has the title "Mice Don't Know When to Let It Go, Either.")






July 23, 2018

New Tools May Have Allowed Hominins to Leave Africa Far Earlier Than Previously Known




(p. D1) The oldest stone tools outside Africa have been discovered in western China, scientists reported on Wednesday [July 11, 2018]. Made by ancient members of the human lineage, called hominins, the chipped rocks are estimated to be as much as 2.1 million years old.

The find may add a new chapter to the story of hominin evolution, suggesting that some of these species left Africa far earlier than once believed and managed to travel over 8,000 miles east of their evolutionary birthplace.


. . .


(p. D3) The trigger for that migration? Maybe it was figuring out how to make sharp stone tools.

"Suddenly you had a primate that could obtain meat from a carcass, and it opened up a new world for them," Dr. Dennell said. "That simple technology was enough to get them out of Africa and right across Asia."



For the full story, see:


Zimmer, Carl. "Ancient Tools Provide New Insight." The New York Times (Tuesday, July 17, 2018): D1 & D3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 11, 2018, and has the title "Archaeologists in China Discover the Oldest Stone Tools Outside Africa.")






July 22, 2018

"A Big Step Toward Regenerative Medicine"




(p. C9) Mr. Zimmer, a New York Times science columnist and author, is careful and well-informed. So when he says that research is overturning things you were taught in biology classes, he's worth heeding. Acquired traits can be inherited. Biological time can turn backward.


. . .


The bigger breakthroughs are more fundamental. One is the development of induced pluripotent stem cells. By adding four proteins to adult cells, scientists have learned how to make them embryonic--"turning back developmental time," as Mr. Zimmer puts it. This is a big step toward regenerative medicine, which can grow spare parts customized for your body. It also creates new ways of making babies.


. . .


Another breakthrough is gene editing. Through a process called Crispr, which tags DNA segments for deletion, we're learning how to program cells to make specific changes to their genomes. We're also learning how to program organisms to pass down these editing instructions to their progeny. Experiments have shown that this technology could, at some point, cure hereditary diseases such as cystic fibrosis. In addition, scientists think it could wipe out destructive rodents and malaria-carrying mosquitoes.



For the full review, see:

William Saletan. "'Biology's Strange New World. Acquired traits can be inherited. Biological time can turn backward. And monsters are real." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 30, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 28, 2018, and has the title "''She Has Her Mother's Laugh' Review: Biology's Strange New World. Acquired traits can be inherited. Biological time can turn backward. And monsters are real.")


The book under review, is:

Zimmer, Carl. She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. New York: Dutton, 2018.






July 21, 2018

China Fears It Can Only Walk Forward by Using Keynes




(p. B1) HONG KONG -- Wang Shidong and his two partners were still finishing graduate school two years ago when they raised $45 million in less than two months to start a venture capital fund. His wife, an elementary-school teacher in their home village, was "terrified" that he got to manage so much money, Mr. Wang said.

Things are different this year. After three months and visits with more than 90 potential investors all over China, Mr. Wang and his partners raised only $3 million for a second fund. In June, they shut down the firm.

Their fund, East Zhang Hangzhou Investment Management Ltd., was one of nearly 10,000 founded over the past three years amid a technology gold rush powered in part by China's government-guided economic growth engine. Now they have become the latest sign (p. B2) that China's engine is slowing down.

"All industries, institutions and individuals are running short of cash," said Zhang Kaixing, founder and chief executive of an online asset management company in Shenzhen called Jinfuzi, which means "golden ax." Jinfuzi, which manages over $4.5 billion in assets, is the type of investor that technology funds court.

"Many investors in private equity and venture capital funds want to take their money back," Mr. Zhang said.


. . .


"In China we believe in Keynesian economics," said Mr. Zhang, the Jinfuzi chief executive, referring to the economic theory that favors a bigger role for government. "If what's going on in China were happening in the U.S., it would have been called a recession. But in China, the government will step in to interfere in significant ways."

Under President Xi, even economics has become a delicate topic. Many people in China are not willing to speak publicly because even economists aren't allowed to make downward forecasts.

Yet in private conversations, investors, entrepreneurs and economists admit that with the high debt level and a trade war with the United States, the room for government maneuvering is shrinking. The degrees of pessimism vary, but many of them are bracing for a tough ride ahead.


. . .


Venture funds like East Zhang came into existence in part because, starting in 2014, Beijing made innovation and entrepreneurship top priorities. Leaders hoped that start-ups would help elevate China from a manufacturing power to a technology power. Corporations, banks and wealthy individuals fought to give money to venture funds to invest in start-ups.

"We ended up with a lot of dumb money, managed by inexperienced investors," said Ran Wang, chief executive of the investment bank CEC Capital Group in Beijing.



For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. "Latest Sign of China's Slowdown: A Technology Cash Crunch." The New York Times (Tuesday, July 17, 2018): B1 & B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 16, 2018.)






July 20, 2018

Human Intelligence Helps A.I. Work Better




(p. B3) A recent study at the M.I.T. Media Lab showed how biases in the real world could seep into artificial intelligence. Commercial software is nearly flawless at telling the gender of white men, researchers found, but not so for darker-skinned women.

And Google had to apologize in 2015 after its image-recognition photo app mistakenly labeled photos of black people as "gorillas."

Professor Nourbakhsh said that A.I.-enhanced security systems could struggle to determine whether a nonwhite person was arriving as a guest, a worker or an intruder.

One way to parse the system's bias is to make sure humans are still verifying the images before responding.

"When you take the human out of the loop, you lose the empathetic component," Professor Nourbakhsh said. "If you keep humans in the loop and use these systems, you get the best of all worlds."



For the full story, see:

Paul Sullivan. "WEALTH MATTERS; Can Artificial Intelligence Keep Your Home Secure?" The New York Times (Saturday, June 30, 2018): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 29, 2018.)


The "recent study" mentioned above, is:

Buolamwini, Joy, and Timnit Gebru. "Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification." Proceedings of Machine Learning Research 81 (2018): 1-15.







July 19, 2018

Earned Income Matters More Than Equal Income




(p. A13) The concept of a universal basic income, or UBI, has become part of the moral armor of Silicon Valley moguls who want a socially conscious defense against the charge that technology is making humanity obsolete.


. . .


We need policies that encourage job creation and working, not policies that pay people not to work.

In the mid-1960s, about 5% of men aged 25 to 54 were jobless. For 40 years that share has risen, and for much of the past decade the rate has remained over 15%. Suicide, divorce and opioid abuse are all associated with nonemployment, and many facts suggest that the misery of joblessness is far worse than that of a low-paying job. According to the most recent data, only 7% of working men in households earning less than $35,000 report being dissatisfied with their lives. But that share soars to 18% among the nonemployed of all incomes. This suggests that promoting employment is more important than reducing inequality.

. . . 50 years of evidence about labor supply in the U.S. suggests that giving people money will lead them to work less.

The Negative Income Tax experiments of the 1970s--when poorer households in a number of states received direct cash payments to keep them at a minimum income--are the closest America has come to a UBI. But they did not show "minimal impact on work," as Mr. Yang suggests. Rather, they produced a quite significant work-hours reduction of between 5% and 25%, as well as "employment rate reductions . . . from about 1 to 10 percentage points," according to one capable study.



For the full review, see:


Edward Glaeser. "'BOOKSHELF; 'Give People Money' and 'The War on Normal People' Review: The Cure for Poverty? A guaranteed income does nothing to address the misery of joblessness, nor the associated plagues of divorce, opioid abuse and suicide." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, July 10, 2018): A13.

(Note: first two ellipses added; third ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 9, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; 'Give People Money' and 'The War on Normal People' Review: The Cure for Poverty? A guaranteed income does nothing to address the misery of joblessness, nor the associated plagues of divorce, opioid abuse and suicide.")






July 18, 2018

Entrepreneur Mackay Deserved to Be Dealt Four Aces




(p. C9) One evening sometime in the 1850s, John Mackay, a prospector, was playing poker with his fellow silver miners in Virginia City, Nev. The wagering was furious, and Mackay was playing well. In one hand, he was dealt an improbable three aces. The man next to him was "betting like a cyclone," when Mackay drew the astonishing fourth ace, whereupon he laid down his cards and walked away without picking up the pot. "Leave me out, boys," he said. He didn't need it. At this point in his life, he had more money than he could ever spend.


. . .


With not a cent to his name, Mackay began swinging a pick ax for subsistence wages on other peoples' claims, eventually working his way up to mine supervisor. "Mackay tried to cast his imagination into the rock," Mr. Crouch says, "looking for clues that would lead him to a greater understanding of what wealth lay underground." By 1865 he had acquired enough cash to buy a stake in a promising mine called the Kentuck. At first the investment looked to be another bust, but it suddenly hit big, paying out $1.6 million of the "precious needful," as miners called valuable ore, over the next two years.


. . .


The author saves for last an account of the delicious comeuppance Mackay delivered to the American businessman Jay Gould --"the most hated man of the age." Gould had secured a monopoly on trans-Atlantic telegraphy. Without competition, he gouged users, prompting Mackay, a believer in private enterprise, to lay his own undersea cable, thus breaking Gould's stranglehold and winning public admiration on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mr. Crouch clearly admires his protagonist, at times nearly to distraction. He portrays Mackay throughout this well-written and worthwhile book as a man of high principle--kind, charitable and fair, dependably doing the noble thing. Strong and silent, he is the Gary Cooper of the sagebrush set. It ever so lightly strains credulity, however, to believe that Mackay didn't harbor a little larceny in his heart, like nearly everybody on the Comstock during the mad rush. But readers may well want to take the author's word that a man of such humility and generosity was exactly that. Nowhere will you read John Mackay's name among the robber barons of his era. Some men who are dealt four aces in life deserve them.



For the full review, see:

Patrick Cooke. "'The Man Who Hit the Mother Lode." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 7, 2018): C9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 5, 2018, and has the title "'The Bonanza King' Review: The Man Who Hit the Mother Lode.")


The book under review, is:

Crouch, Gregory. The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West. New York: Scribner, 2018.






July 17, 2018

"Meditation Is Demotivating"




(p. 6) . . . on the face of it, mindfulness might seem counterproductive in a workplace setting. A central technique of mindfulness meditation, after all, is to accept things as they are. Yet companies want their employees to be motivated. And the very notion of motivation -- striving to obtain a more desirable future -- implies some degree of discontentment with the present, which seems at odds with a psychological exercise that instills equanimity and a sense of calm.

To test this hunch, we recently conducted five studies, involving hundreds of people, to see whether there was a tension between mindfulness and motivation. As we report in a forthcoming article in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, we found strong evidence that meditation is demotivating.



For the full commentary, see:

Kathleen D. Vohs and Andrew C. Hafenbrack. "GRAY MATTER; Don't Meditate at Work." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, June 17, 2018): 6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2018, and has the title "GRAY MATTER; Hey Boss, You Don't Want Your Employees to Meditate.")


The article by Hafenbrack and Vohs, mentioned above, is:

Hafenbrack, Andrew C., and Kathleen D. Vohs. "Mindfulness Meditation Impairs Task Motivation but Not Performance." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 147 (July 2018): 1-15.






July 16, 2018

Chinese Communists Subsidize Ghost Town Construction




(p. C3) In China's Inner Mongolia province, in the middle of the Gobi desert, row upon row of largely vacant apartment towers line the streets of Kangbashi, a new district of the city of Ordos. Earlier this month, Xu Yongfen and his family moved into one 28-story building. In the hallways there are a few signs of life--tricycles, slippers and pink children's shoes in front of some doors. But most apartments remain unoccupied, their doors still covered in plastic wrap, and at street level, barren storefronts are visible in all directions. "This area is nearly totally empty," Mr. Xu says, tapping a cigarette into a bowl of ashes at his dining room table.

The city has spent 14 years planning, erecting and maintaining Kangbashi, which has the distinction of being one of China's best-known "ghost towns"--gleaming but sparsely populated new urban centers adjacent to older metropolises. Built by the dozen across the country, the new areas reflect--and were meant to accelerate--China's economic boom. As the country's growth has slowed, many of them have become serious liabilities, deep in debt, with little prospect of full occupancy anytime soon.


. . .

Many of China's other ghost towns have yet to figure out how to jumpstart their economies without slipping back into the old pattern of borrowing and building. To become economically viable, some may take 20 or 30 years, or "maybe even forever," said Zhou Jiangping, a professor of urban planning at the University of Hong Kong. In some cases, Mr. Zhou said, local officials encouraged ambitious plans to advance their own careers: "You see all these empty towns, these areas at the edge of cities. They may symbolize the power of some officials." Because many of them then move on to other jobs, he said, they didn't think about ensuring long-term growth.


. . .


Ordos City Investment Real Estate Development Co. recently resumed work on two housing projects that it had set aside five years ago, including Mr. Xu's complex. "Kangbashi's real-estate sales improved, so our company decided to restart construction," said Wang Tianyong, a branch manager, noting that the government's subsidy program favors new projects.



For the full story, see:

Dominique Fong. "China's Ghost Towns Haunt Its Economy." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 16, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 15, 2018.)






July 15, 2018

It No Longer Pays to Recycle




(p. B1) Oregon is serious about recycling. Its residents are accustomed to dutifully separating milk cartons, yogurt containers, cereal boxes and kombucha bottles from their trash to divert them from the landfill. But this year, because of a far-reaching rule change in China, some of the recyclables are ending up in the local dump anyway.

In recent months, in fact, thousands of tons of material left curbside for recycling in dozens of American cities and towns -- including several in Oregon -- have gone to landfills.


. . .


(p. B5) Recycling companies "used to get paid" by selling off recyclable materials, said Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon. "Now they're paying to have someone take it away."

In some places, including parts of Idaho, Maine and Pennsylvania, waste managers are continuing to recycle but are passing higher costs on to customers, or are considering doing so.

"There are some states and some markets where mixed paper is at a negative value," said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling at Waste Management, which handles 10 million tons of recycling per year. "We'll let our customers make that decision, if they'd like to pay more and continue to recycle or to pay less and have it go to landfill."

Mr. Spendelow said companies in rural areas, which tend to have higher expenses to get their materials to market, were being hit particularly hard. "They're literally taking trucks straight to the landfill," he said.



For the full story, see:

Livia Albeck-Ripka. "Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not?" The New York Times (Thursday, May 31, 2018): B1 & B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 29, 2018.)






July 14, 2018

For Job Creation, Firm Youth and Fast Growth Matter More than Small Size




(p. C3) Economist David Birch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claimed in the late 1970s--inaccurately, as it turned out--that small businesses were the jobs engine of the economy, which allowed advocates to argue that aid to small businesses was a driver of economic growth. This narrative was reinforced by the wave of startups in the tech sector in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2000, all new businesses, no matter how technologically primitive or undercapitalized, were being called startups. A new biotech company was a startup, but so was a new three-person lawn-mowing business. Only child-labor laws prevented lemonade stands from being classified as startups, too.

A 2010 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed, however, that it is the age of a firm, not its size, that matters for job creation. Just as children grow faster than adults, young firms grow faster than mature ones.


. . .


Government at every level can certainly do more to eliminate unnecessary regulations and to streamline those regulations that serve crucial public ends. But such reforms should benefit all businesses, regardless of size.


. . .


Beyond the injustice of it, small-business favoritism reverberates throughout the economy, slowing growth in two ways. First, subsidies and other size-based industrial policies slow productivity growth by enabling less efficient small firms to gain more market share than would otherwise be the case. Second, discriminatory policies provide an incentive for small firms to remain small. Why add five more workers when doing so would subject you to a host of new regulations and restrict your access to government handouts?



For the full commentary, see:

Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind. "Stop Propping Up Small Business." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 7, 2018): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 6, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Atkinson,‎ Robert D., and Michael Lind. Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2018.


The published version of the 2010 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, mentioned above, is:

Haltiwanger, John C., Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. "Who Creates Jobs? Small Vs. Large Vs. Young." Review of Economics and Statistics 95, no. 2 (May 2013): 347-61.






July 13, 2018

Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Fall in Price and Rise in Ease of Programming




(p. B4) Robots are moving off the assembly line.

Collaborative robots that work alongside humans--"cobots"--are getting cheaper and easier to program. That is encouraging businesses to put them to work at new tasks in bars, restaurants and clinics.

In the Netherlands, a cobot scales a 26-foot-high bar to tap bottles of homemade gin, whiskey and limoncello so that bartenders don't need to climb ladders. In Japan, a cobot boxes takeout dumplings. In Singapore, robots give soft-tissue massages.

Cobots made up just 5% of the $14 billion industrial-robot market in 2017, according to research by Minneapolis-based venture-capital firm Loup Ventures. Loup estimates sales will jump to 27% of a $33 billion market by 2025 as demand for the robotic arms rises. About 20 manufacturers around the world have started selling such robots in the past decade.



For the full story, see:

Natasha Khan. "Robots Shift From Factories to New Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 11, 2018): B4.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 9, 2018, and has the title "Your Next Robot Encounter: Dinner, Drinks and a Massage.")






July 12, 2018

China Will Fail to Corner the Lithium Market




(p. B12) Since emerging as an industrial superpower in the 2000s, China has repeatedly tried to lock up essential resources like iron ore and so-called rare earths. The latest example is lithium, a key battery element: . . . .


. . .


The reality is more mundane.


. . .


. . . it will take just $13 billion in investment to satisfy annual lithium consumption as of 2030, against more $100 billion for nickel and copper.

Even if only a relatively small amount of mining capital spending migrates from mainstays like iron ore into lithium over the next decade, supply probably won't be a huge problem.



For the full story, see:

Nathaniel Taplin. "China Won't Be Able to Dominate Lithium Mining Forever." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, May 18, 2018): B12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title "China Won't Dominate Lithium Forever." The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)






July 11, 2018

Splendid, Excellent, Salubrious, Salutary, Healthy, Great Jobs Numbers




(p. A16) The real question in analyzing the May jobs numbers released Friday [June 1, 2018] is whether there are enough synonyms for "good" in an online thesaurus to describe them adequately.

So, for example, "splendid" and "excellent" fit the bill. Those are the kinds of terms that are appropriate when the United States economy adds 223,000 jobs in a month, despite being nine years into an expansion, and when the unemployment rate falls to 3.8 percent, a new 18-year low.

"Salubrious," "salutary" and "healthy" work as words to describe the 0.3 percent rise in average hourly earnings, which are up 2.7 percent over the last year -- a nice improvement but also not the kind of sharp increase that might lead the Federal Reserve to rethink its cautious path of interest rate increases.

And a broader definition of unemployment, which includes people who have given up looking for a job out of frustration, fell to 7.6 percent. The jobless rate for African-Americans fell to 5.9 percent, the lowest on record, which we would count as "great."

If anything, some of the thesaurus offerings don't really do these numbers justice.


. . .


It isn't perfect -- wage growth remains unexceptional despite its growth spurt in May, and the ratio of prime-age adults working remains below its historical levels.

But it has been a strikingly durable and steady expansion, which is what the nation needed after the scars of the 2008 recession. And that's just plain "good."



For the full story, see:

Neil Irwin. "How Good? Words Fail Us." The New York Times (Saturday, June 2, 2018: A16.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2018, and has the title "We Ran Out of Words to Describe How Good the Jobs Numbers Are." The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)






July 10, 2018

Those Born Poor, Benefit Less from College Degree




(p. A23) It's a cruel irony that a college degree is worth less to people who most need a boost: those born poor. This revelation was made by the economists Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein. Using a body of data, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which includes 50 years of interviews with 18,000 Americans, they were able to follow the lives of children born into poor, middle-class and wealthy families.

They found that for Americans born into middle-class families, a college degree does appear to be a wise investment. Those in this group who received one earned 162 percent more over their careers than those who didn't.

But for those born into poverty, the results were far less impressive. College graduates born poor earned on average only slightly more than did high school graduates born middle class. And over time, even this small "degree bonus" ebbed away, at least for men: By middle age, male college graduates raised in poverty were earning less than nondegree holders born into the middle class. The scholars conclude, "Individuals from poorer backgrounds may be encountering a glass ceiling that even a bachelor's degree does not break."


. . .


It shouldn't here, either: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 20 percent of American jobs actually require a bachelor's degree. By 2026, the bureau estimates that this proportion will rise, but only to 25 percent.

Why do employers demand a degree for jobs that don't require them? Because they can.

What all this suggests is that the college-degree premium may really be a no-college-degree penalty.



For the full commentary, see:


Ellen Ruppel Shell. "College May Not Be Worth It Anymore." The New York Times (Thursday, May 17, 2018): A23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 16, 2018. The online version is substantially longer, and in some places has different wording, than the print version. Where the wording of a quoted passage differs, my quotation above follows the print version.)


The research by Tim Bartik and Brad Hershbein, mentioned above, is:

Bartik, Timothy J., and Brad J. Hershbein. "Degrees of Poverty: The Relationship between Family Income Background and the Returns to Education." Upjohn Institute Working Paper 18-284, March 2018.


Shell's commentary is related to her forthcoming book:

Shell, Ellen Ruppel. The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change. New York: Currency, 2018.






July 9, 2018

Experimental Immunotherapy Holds Hope of Curing Metastasized Solid Tumor Cancers




(p. B3) WASHINGTON--A novel immunotherapy method led to complete regression of breast cancer in a metastatic patient unresponsive to all other treatments, National Cancer Institute researchers said, suggesting a way to reverse some other internal-organ cancers.

The findings, from the NCI laboratory headed by Steven A. Rosenberg, were published Monday in the medical journal Nature Medicine.

The scientific report largely focused on the course of treatment for one patient, Judy Perkins of Port St. Lucie, Fla.


. . .


The research remains experimental, Dr. Rosenberg said in an interview.

"But because this new approach to immunotherapy is dependent on mutations, not on cancer type, it is in a sense a blueprint we can use for the treatment of many types of cancer," he said. "This could be the future of immunotherapy."

Dr. Rosenberg, who has investigated for three decades how the immune system can be employed to fight cancer, said he is hopeful this approach "holds the best opportunities for finding effective immunotherapies for patients with the solid tumors that last year caused over 500,000 deaths in this country."



For the full story, see:

Thomas M. Burton. "Cancer-Fighting 'Blueprint' Seen." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 5, 2018): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 4, 2018, and has the title "Novel Immunotherapy Method Led to Complete Regression of Breast Cancer in Patient.")






July 8, 2018

"Plumbing Industry Is Throwing the Kitchen Sink at Job Candidates"




(p. A1) FORT COLLINS, Colo.--The fast-growing business offers all the perks a pampered Silicon Valley tech worker might expect: An on-site tap flows with craft beer and the kitchen is stocked with locally roasted espresso beans. There is a putting green and a smoker for brisket lunches. Next up: a yoga studio.

Welcome to the gushing job market...for plumbers.

Colorado's Neuworks Mechanical Inc. employs 75 plumbers but needs 15 to 20 more. To keep them happy, it offers "a lot of Zen," says business-development manager Jackie Sindelar. That includes a sharing exercise that "brings out your raw emotions and makes you vulnerable," she says.

Drained from a labor shortage, the plumbing industry is throwing the kitchen sink at job candidates.

Bonfe's Plumbing, Heating & Air Service Inc. of South St. Paul, Minn., boasts an array of arcade games and a "quiet room"--a plush hangout space with insulated walls painted a calming sky blue. It has a lockable door, a comfy couch, a recliner and a sound machine that babbles with the soothing audio of ocean waves.


. . .


U.S. job openings hit a record 6.6 million in March, with the construction industry--where plumbers are heavily employed--seeing one of the largest jumps.

Building, needed repairs and retirements are fueling demand for plumbers at the same time the U.S. jobless rate in April fell below 4% for the first time since late 2000.

The annual median pay for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was nearly $53,000 a year in 2017, according to federal data, but it isn't uncommon to see jobs advertised for far higher wages, from $70,000 up to six figures.



For the full story, see:

Levitz, Jennifer. "Plumbing Firms, Drained by Labor Shortage, Tap Perks." The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 24, 2018): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipsis internal to sentence, in original; ellipsis between paragraphs, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 23, 2018, and has the title "Perks for Plumbers: Hawaiian Vacations, Craft Beer and 'a Lot of Zen'." The last sentence quoted above appeared in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)






July 7, 2018

Google Nurtures Cats That Eat Threatened Owls




(p. 1) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Silicon Valley is booming, and longtime residents are being driven out everywhere. But only in Shoreline Park are the newcomers eating the natives.

A handful of burrowing owls live in this 750-acre wildlife and recreation area, deep in the grass. As the breeding season begins, they are among perhaps 50 left in Silicon Valley. A California species of "special concern," burrowing owls nest in the ground. That makes them especially vulnerable.

Death strikes hard at Shoreline. The remains of an owl -- a leg, a wing, a few scattered feathers -- were found here in 2015, shortly after a feral cat was seen stalking it. Another owl was discovered dead near its burrow, and a third disappeared that year and was presumed killed. That was fully half the owls nesting in the park.

Environmentalists have been alarmed for a long time about the number of cats at Shoreline, but they could not determine where they were coming from. Gradually, public records requests and old-fashioned snooping uncovered a trail. It led southwest from the sun-burnished slopes of the park, up Permanente Creek and into the ever-expanding empire of Google.

Google never set out to threaten biodiversity in its front yard, of (p. 4) course. Like so many stories these days about Big Tech, this is a tale about how attempts to do good often produce unexpected consequences, and how even smart people (especially, perhaps, smart people) can be reluctant to rethink their convictions.

At Google, it is not so much that workers do not like birds as it is that they really love cats. There is an employee group called GCat Rescue that traps the cats around the so-called Googleplex. Kittens and friendly adults are put up for adoption. Less-friendly adult cats are neutered and released.

Google is famous for feeding its employees well, and the cats are no different. Every night, all night, dinner is served from cat-feeding stations. The cat community calls this approach "colony care."


. . .


"Cats that are fed still hunt," said Mr. Longcore, assistant professor of architecture, spatial sciences and biological sciences at the University of Southern California. "Even neutered cats and spayed cats hunt." He added, "If you have an outdoor cat sanctuary, you can expect there to be consequences to the native wildlife."



For the full story, see:

Streitfeld, David. "Google Doesn't Hate Owls. It Just Loves Cats." The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, May 27, 2018): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 26, 2018, and has the title "As Google Feeds Cats, Owl Lovers Cry Foul." The online version says the print version appeared on May 6 on p. A17 of the New York Edition. My print version, as usual, was the National Edition.)






July 6, 2018

Assigning Property Rights to Internet Data Creators




(p. C3) Congress has stepped up talk of new privacy regulations in the wake of the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, which improperly gained access to the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users. Even Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg testified that he thought new federal rules were "inevitable." But to understand what regulation is appropriate, we need to understand the source of the problem: the absence of a real market in data, with true property rights for data creators. Once that market is in place, implementing privacy protections will be easy.

We often think of ourselves as consumers of Facebook, Google, Instagram and other internet services. In reality, we are also their suppliers--or more accurately, their workers. When we post and label photos on Facebook or Instagram, use Google maps while driving, chat in multiple languages on Skype or upload videos to YouTube, we are generating data about human behavior that the companies then feed into machine-learning programs.

These programs use our personal data to learn patterns that allow them to imitate human behavior and understanding. With that information, computers can recognize images, translate languages, help viewers choose among shows and offer the speediest route to the mall. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft (where one of us works) sell these tools to other companies. They also use our data to match advertisers with consumers.

Defenders of the current system often say that we don't give away our personal data for free. Rather, we're paid in the form of the services that we receive. But this exchange is bad for users, bad for society and probably not ideal even for the tech companies. In a real market, consumers would have far more power over the exchange: Here's my data. What are you willing to pay for it?

An internet user today probably would earn only a few hundred dollars a year if companies paid for data. But that amount could grow substantially in the coming years. If the economic reach of AI systems continues to expand--into drafting legal contracts, diagnosing diseases, performing surgery, making investments, driving trucks, managing businesses--they will need vast amounts of data to function.

And if these systems displace human jobs, people will have plenty of time to supply that data. Tech executives fearful that AI will cause mass unemployment have advocated a universal basic income funded by increased taxes. But the pressure for such policies would abate if users were simply compensated for their data.



For the full commentary, see:

Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl. "Want Our Personal Data? Pay for It." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 21, 2018): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018.)


The commentary quoted above, is based on:

Posner, Eric A., and E. Glen Weyl. Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.






July 5, 2018

Hot Students Learn Less





More evidence on why air conditioning increases our mental acuity:



(p. A5) Hot weather makes it more difficult for high-school students to learn, a new study suggests.


. . .


The study was circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research as a working paper by Mr. Goodman and three other researchers.

They found that, on average, every increase of 1 degree Fahrenheit in the average temperature during the school year reduced learning by about 1%.



For the full story, see:

Ben Leubsdorf. "Heat Found to Hurt Studies." The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 8, 2018): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 7, 2018, and has the title "American Students Don't Learn Well When It's Hot Outside." The online version is substantially longer, and in some places has different wording, than the print version. Where the wording of a quoted passage differs, my quotation above follows the print version.)


The NBER paper, mentioned above, is:

Goodman, Joshua, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, and Jonathan Smith. "Heat and Learning." National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper Series, # 24639, May 2018.






July 4, 2018

After Losing Circus Job, Clown Applies His Skills by Running for Congress as a Democrat




(p. A1) As an elephant handler for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Lauren Ramsay used to spend her time herding four-ton pachyderms.

As an elephant handler for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Lauren Ramsay used to spend her time herding four-ton pachyderms.

Last May, the circus closed down after 146 years traveling the country and thrilling millions with "the Greatest Show on Earth." In the year since, the contortionists, acrobats, stilt walkers and other per-(p. A8)formers have walked a tightrope trying to adapt to more-conventional jobs, while sometimes using their circus skills. It takes some professional clowns a while to find a second act: One is now running for Congress.

Former clown Sandor Eke, of Las Vegas, Nev., wanted to put his entertaining and juggling skills to work behind a bar after 20 years with the circus. But nobody would hire him without experience. He's now picking up random clown jobs and painting houses. "I try to have fun with it, but it's not exactly what I wanted with life. I mean, I used to be a clown!"

In April, Mr. Eke auditioned for a mascot job with the Oakland Raiders once they move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season. He tried on the "Rushing Raider" costume, and did what he called a "crowd-pleasing routine." He's waiting to hear back, but remains hopeful. "I got good vibes," he says.


. . .


Former clown Steve Lough, of Camden, S.C., who left the circus in 2004, later found employment working for McDonald's at special events and volunteering for political campaigns.

This spring, Mr. Lough decided to run for office himself and is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Congress in South Carolina. "I juggle at every campaign stop now," he says.

He did a pratfall at the South Carolina Democratic Convention in April that "got a big reaction and laugh."


. . .


. . . Mr. Lough says the crowds love his clown skills.



For the full story, see:

John Clarke. "Ex-Clown Is Hard to Hide on a Résumé." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 22, 2018): A1 & A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 21, 2018, and has the title "What's A Clown to Do After the Circus? One Is Running for Congress.")






July 3, 2018

"Entrepreneurial Capitalism Takes More People Out of Poverty Than Aid"




(p. A15) Some 44% of millennials believe they do more to support social causes than the rest of their family, according to the 2017 Millennial Impact report. If you're volunteering at shelters or working for most nonprofits, that's all very nice, but it's one-off. You're one of the privileged few who have the education to create lasting change. It may feel good to ladle soup to the hungry, but you're wasting valuable brain waves that could be spent ushering in a future in which no one is hungry to begin with.

There's a word that was probably never mentioned by your professors: Scale. No, not the stuff on the bottom of your bong or bathtub. It's the concept of taking a small idea and finding ways to implement it for thousands, or millions, or even billions. Without scale, ideas are no more than hot air. Stop doing the one-off two-step. It's time to scale up.


. . .


If you don't think I'm credible, you too can listen to Bono. As he told Georgetown students a few years ago, "Entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid." Of course it does. Want to change the world? Stop doing one-off volunteering and scale up.



For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. "Advice to New Grads: Scale or Bail." The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 21, 2018): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 20, 2018.)






July 2, 2018

Lenin "Sought to Destroy" Russian Peasants




(p. B14) A forceful, stylish writer with a sweeping view of history, Professor Pipes covered nearly 600 years of the Russian past in "Russia Under the Old Regime," abandoning chronology and treating his subject by themes, such as the peasantry, the church, the machinery of state and the intelligentsia.

One of his most original contributions was to locate many of Russia's woes in its failure to evolve beyond its status as a patrimonial state, a term he borrowed from the German sociologist Max Weber to characterize Russian absolutism, in which the czar not only ruled but also owned his domain and its inhabitants, nullifying the concepts of private property and individual freedom.

With "The Russian Revolution" (1990), Professor Pipes mounted a frontal assault on many of the premises and long-held convictions of mainstream Western specialists on the Bolshevik seizure of power. That book, which began with the simple Russian epigraph "To the victims," took a prosecutorial stance toward the Bolsheviks and their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who still commanded a certain respect and sympathy among Western historians.

Professor Pipes, a moralist shaped by his experiences as a Jew who had fled the Nazi occupation of Poland, would have none of it. He presented the Bolshevik Party as a conspiratorial, deeply unpopular clique rather than the spearhead of a mass movement. He shed new and harsh light on the Bolshevik campaign against the peasantry, which, he argued, Lenin had sought to destroy as a reactionary class. He also accused Lenin of laying the foundation of the terrorist state that his successor, Joseph Stalin, perfected.

"I felt and feel to this day that I have been spared not to waste my life on self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement but to spread a moral message by showing, using examples from history, how evil ideas lead to evil consequences," Professor Pipes wrote in a memoir. "Since scholars have written enough on the Holocaust, I thought it my mission to demonstrate this truth using the example of communism."


. . .


In "The Russian Revolution," he wrote:

"The Russian Revolution was made neither by the forces of nature nor by anonymous masses but by identifiable men pursuing their own advantages. Although it has spontaneous aspects, in the main it was the result of deliberate action. As such it is very properly subject to value judgment."



For the full obituary, see:

William Grimes. "Richard Pipes, Historian Of Russia and Adviser To Reagan, Dies at 94." The New York Times (Friday, May 18, 2018): B14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date May 17, 2018, and has the title "Richard Pipes, Historian of Russia and Reagan Aide, Dies at 94.")


The early Pipes book, mentioned above, is:

Pipes, Richard. Russia under the Old Regime. revised 2nd ed. London, England: Penguin Books, 1997 [1st ed. 1974].


The later Pipes book, mentioned above, is:

Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. revised 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1990.






July 1, 2018

Stornetta and Nakamoto Invented Bitcoin




(p. C18) In 1990, the physicist Scott Stornetta had a eureka moment while getting ice cream with his family at a Friendly's restaurant in Morristown, N.J. He and his cryptographer colleague, Stuart Haber, had been thinking about the proliferation of digital files that accompanied the rise of personal computing and the ease with which files could be altered. They wondered how we might know for certain what was true about the past. What would prevent tampering with the historical record--and would it be possible to protect such information for future generations?

The sticking point was the need to trust a central authority. But at Friendly's, an answer came to Dr. Stornetta: He realized that instead of a central record-keeper, the system could have many dispersed but interconnected copies of a shared ledger. The truth could never be typed over if there were too many linked ledgers to alter.

Drs. Haber and Stornetta were working at the time at Bellcore, a research center descended from the legendary Bell Labs. The pair set out to build a cryptographically secure archive--a way to verify records without revealing their contents.


. . .


. . . there is no mistaking their crucial contribution. When the founding document of bitcoin was published in 2008 under the name " Satoshi Nakamoto "--a pseudonym for one or more scientists--it had just eight citations of previous works. Three of them were papers co-authored by Drs. Haber and Stornetta.


, , ,


The Nakamoto paper revolutionized the foundational work of Drs. Stornetta and Haber by adding the concept of "mining" cryptocurrencies. It created financial incentives for participation in retaining and verifying parts of the blockchain ledger.



For the full commentary, see:

Amy Whitaker. "The Eureka Moment That Made Bitcoin Possible; A key insight for the technology came to a physicist almost three decades ago at a Friendly's restaurant in New Jersey." The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 26, 2018): C18.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 25, 2018.)






HP3D5006CropSmall.jpg






Archives















The StatCounter number above reports the number of "page loads" since the counter was installed late on 2/26/08. Page loads are defined on the site as "The number of times your page has been visited."


View My Stats